While Reshell Ray has a long history of event planning, it’s her love for students that has kept her working at the university for nearly 35 years.
“I truly believe that love is fundamental because I love students,” Ray said. “There is nothing better than being a part of a campus and working with undergraduate and graduate students. I get up every day looking forward to coming to work because not one day is the same.”
Ray is the associate director for programs and events in the Office of Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement on East Campus and leads the Campus NightLife program. She collaborates with students to plan engaging events that connect students to campus and each other.
Her passion for programming stretches back to when she was a graduate student at Nebraska studying urban and regional planning and was a member of the University Program Council and president of the Afrikan People’s Union. Ray served on UPC’s American Racial Minority Council, where she brought special events and entertainment to campus, including prominent Black figures such as politician Shirley Chisholm, actress Margaret Avery and rapper Dr. Dre.
Soon after her graduation, Ray was invited back to work as a programming specialist on campus and has served in several offices throughout her career. After working for nearly 35 years at the university, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The love I have for my job and the students and the university,” Ray said, “it really does motivate me to be a good mentor, to be a good role model, to help students learn life skills, to help them learn how to build relationships in healthy ways that cross boundaries.”
Many students see all these qualities and more in Ray, including senior fisheries and wildlife major Kaitlyn Dozler. Dozler has worked under Ray for all four years of her undergraduate career and was granted full leadership of the student bowling league as a freshman. Dozler said Ray has had an unmatched influence not only on her college career, but the rest of her life.
“Students meet Reshell once, and they never forget who she is, and she will never forget them,” Dozler said.
Some of Ray’s proudest campus accomplishments have been hosting comedian Larry the Cable Guy at Pinnacle Bank Arena for a Team Jack fundraiser in 2014 and hosting a free student carnival in 2019, all in collaboration with students. Away from campus, she prides herself on being a mother of five and improving the quality of life and connectedness in her neighborhood of Belmont. She said behind all this, she’s leaned on her lifelong dedication to her faith.
“My parents stressed that faith was the foundation of everything,” she said. “And treating people with respect and dignity transcended race, economics and culture. That people were people. I carry that with me in everything that I do.”
In addition to her faith, Ray constantly turns to notable Black figures to motivate her and preserve history that she doesn’t want to lose. She looks up to American abolitionist Harriet Tubman for her tenacity, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his faith, bishop T.D. Jakes for his ability to connect different peoples, and countless others.
As Ray continues in her roles at the university and in her personal life, she hopes to find more ways to bring people together. She has visions of creating safer parks for her 11 grandchildren, as well as connecting neighbors who may not know each other yet.
Until then, Ray will continue doing what brought her to work at the university in the first place: sharing her love with students.
“She always jokes that her students are her second family, which couldn’t be more correct,” Dozler said. “We joke that she is our college mom because we know she would go to the ends of the Earth for us.”